Obies Using Languages: Alaina Marangos ’19

Alaina is a first-year considering majoring in Geology. Someday soon she hopes to be fluent in Spanish, German, Greek, and Chinese.

Which languages has she studied?

Alaina started learning French and Spanish off and on throughout middle-school. She started French in kindergarten, continued in 2nd and 3rd grades. During 3rd grade her teacher was from Japan and taught the students Japanese along with the 3rd grade curriculum. She started Spanish in 1st grade and continued with it in 4th-8th grades. Alaina switched schools so language became a year on year off pattern of learning. She studied Latin 7th-8th grade which frustrated her because you could only read, and not speak the language. She learned Chinese all of high school because it was offered and she was frustrated with learning the same thing over and over in Spanish classes. Now, she studies German and Chinese at Oberlin.

Where did Alaina learn them: at school, at home, abroad?

Alaina went to China the summer after her sophomore year in high school. While in China, her knowledge of the Chinese language skyrocketed compared to the pace of learning in school. Alaina knows that she has to continue taking Chinese because she loves understanding people she rides the bus with or walking down the street since so many people speak Mandarin in the U.S. There’s so much memorization in Chinese because there is no alphabet to form words, one has to memorize thousands of characters as well as their tones.

Alaina studies German at Oberlin because she might want to move to Germany and thinks that the German language is beautiful.

How did she keep up stamina in language classes?

Alaina loves grammar in other languages! Chinese has almost no grammar, there is no verb conjugation, so no verb tenses, and no articles. She says she’s not that great at finishing things in general and sees the need to be fluent in something! She thinks that sitting in a beginner’s language class is really exciting. She finds the beginning process of learning languages really fun since she knows she’s about to learn more about how she thinks about the world. Alaina believes that languages change the way she thinks and also opens doors to connecting with people she would never otherwise meet.

Does she have a favorite language to hear, speak, read, sing in?

Her favorite thing to hear are conversations in Chinese. Alaina believes that people speaking Chinese in the United States assume that no one can understand what they are saying which makes for some hilarious eavesdropping.
Alaina listens to Devandra Banhart because they sing in Spanish and German. She loves everything that is happening in the music: the Spanish influence on instruments and beats and the sound of German being sung.

Languages change the way we think and experience:

Speaking with Alaina I can see the glow in her smile when she speaks about how much she loves languages. She talked with me about how words are bridges to concepts but that the word limits the concept to the definition of the word. She loves languages not only because they are fun to hear, speak, and learn but because she can meet people and try to see the world a little more differently with each word she learns. Many phrases are not translatable which means that people experience the world a little differently depending on what words they know.


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